The City of Penticton says a conversation is needed about the issues of homelessness, mental health problems and addiction.
Peter Weeber, Penticton’s chief administrative officer, has been collecting photos of instances of these problems around Penticton.
“I think the one that really resonated with me is the guy rolling joints and drinking beer in the kid’s skateboard park,” said Weeber, marvelling at the man’s lack of concern that someone might take action.
Weeber said he has also seen public evidence of drug addiction and homelessness.
“There is no one to help these people, so I am wondering if a positive step forward is to start engaging a conversation,” said Weeber. These issues fall under provincial and federal jurisdictions, but the city is the immediate focus for people demanding change.
“I’ve been getting daily phone calls and emails and letters saying that mayor and council have to fix homelessness, drug addiction and mental health,” said Weeber. “We have limited resources. We are water, roads, sewer, recreation, policing and fire. That’s our mandate.”
That doesn’t mean the City of Penticton is ignoring these issues. They have been involved in the past, working to support local agencies and lobbying senior levels of governments and agencies.
“We’re dealing with mental health, addictions and homelessness, which are large social issues that are bigger than the city in terms of our ability and our mandate,” said Mayor Andrew Jakubeit. “We have helped in the past, partnering with B.C. Housing and giving some land and trying to help with rezoning and facilitating.”
The city has also been working with and supporting 100 Home Penticton, which has a goal of providing housing and supports to 100 vulnerable people in the community by July 2018.
A homeless man who had set up camp behind the Main Street McDonald’s brought the problem to a forefront, according to Jakubeit, when it generated a stir on social media.
Jakubeit said the man is getting help finding a new location through the Martin Street Outreach Clinic, and his site is being packed up.
“We really need to figure out a solution. I think some of the local Facebook commenters think it is isolated to Penticton,” said Jakubeit. “It is all over the place and it is becoming a crisis throughout the province and the country.”
Weeber agreed with the word crisis, saying that problem implies someone is doing something wrong.
“I don’t think the city is doing anything wrong, and I don’t think the people that are helping are doing anything wrong. I think this is a crisis that needs to be managed in a different way than we are going now. That’s not easy,” said Weeber.
The RCMP are planning a public forum for July 12 on policing and public safety. Jakubeit expects these issues will be brought up there. He calls it a pivotal opportunity to hear what the RCMP plans are to deal with safety issues, but also hear some ideas from the community and other service providers.
Jakubeit said another complication is that an addict can’t be forced to stop taking drugs or where to take them, or a homeless person to take shelter that gets provided to them.
“They need to want to change or accept the offer. It is very frustrating and beginning to come to a boiling point,” said Jakubeit. “We need to put more pressure on, most notably on the provincial government because the Health Authority falls under them as well.”
The next step, Jakubeit said, is the July 12 RCMP town hall meeting and then a community symposium on mental health, addictions, and homelessness.
“We have had success with 100 homes Penticton; which is linking non-profits and faith-based groups with a common vision, and they have made some progress,” said Jakubeit. “Now we need to connect and link the various agencies with 100 Homes and the greater community to create some solutions to implement.”